CyanogenMod: Open-source smartphone OS goes commercial

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

CyanogenMod's mascot, Cid.
Image: Cyanogen Inc.

The developers of CyanogenMod, an open source free Android-based operating system for smartphones, announced yesterday their incorporation following a successful venture capital campaign which netted the open-source project a US$7 million nest egg, and plan to roll out a simple installation app on Google Play for their Android firmware.

Android runs nearly 80% of new mobile devices; CyanogenMod operates on at least 7 or 8 million of those. CyanogenMod replaces the read-only-memory image in android devices which have been 'rooted' —control acquired of the device's superuser account— allowing continuing development for, and backporting abilities of new generations of the operating system to, older devices.

Investor Mitch Lasky wrote on his blog "We believe that CM is poised to become one of the largest mobile operating systems in the world." Benchmark Capital and Redpoint Ventures are part of the capital providers to form Cyanogen Inc.

The CyanogenMod team, including dog.
Image: Cyanogen Inc.

"The only limitation we have right now is with the number of engineers and designers we currently have. As we hire more people and build this company, we’ll be able to work on so many cool things", said Koushik 'koush' Dutta, who took questions alongside Steve 'cyanogen' Kondik and team social media manager Abhisek "ciwrl" Devkota in a Reddit Ask Me Anything event shortly after making the announcement on the CyanogenMod blog. The team of 17, including Boost co-founder Kirt McMaster as CEO, are in Palo Alto, California and Seattle.

Kondik says Cyanogen mod is named after him. "I'm terrible with names, so I just slapped 'mod' onto the end of my handle and ran with it", he explained in the incorporation announcement.

An early question raised in the Reddit event concerned profit-making: "Monetization isn't an immediate concern and our investors [...] feel the same", said Dutta, adding "Creating disruption in a multibilion dollar market is enough to make any investor raise their eyebrow." This means CyanogenMod would continue to be free. Follow questions asked if the company was planning to release their own model of android device. "We certainly couldn't take on the monumental task of building/testing hardware [right now]. Hardware would be one of many potential very long term paths we could take", said Dutta.

The firm's first announced step is to improve the process of installing the software on owner's devices, which Kondik described as "hideous". A new installer app is planned to be released "in the coming weeks" on Google Play. The installer app will not require rooting the device, instead installing by simply clicking a button.

A further step, broadly described without any details, is a project with an unnamed original equipment manufacturer (OEM). "We have a least one OEM partnership in the works, there will be an announcement next week regarding our plans there", said Kondik. The team mentioned OEM licensing several times during the Q&A session on Reddit.

In addition to these corporate steps, there were questions regarding the roadmap for development of the ROM, which already has improvements regarding privacy and security over the native android loader. With "plenty of things in the product pipeline already" Dutta lists additional security features, AirPlay mirroring, screen recording, and Voice+ as upcoming. The mood throughout the event was jovial, with humourous questions such as "can you guys PLEASE release a CM build for my toaster? I'm not sure what model it is, but it's white and I got it at Savers." Kondik promised "Ship it to me and I'll duct tape a G1 running CM to it". Dutta said his "10 of your favorite lines of source code" are "The ones that worked when they shouldn't have."


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